SAN ANTONIO – The number of reported incidents of Bexar County detention officers using force on inmates has dropped this year, after a noticeable spike in 2021, records analyzed by KSAT Investigates show.
Through mid-November, jailers used force on inmates an average of 2.746 times per day. Last year, the use of force average was 3.332 incidents per day.
“It’s especially impressive in light of the fact that our felony population has gone up. Our population of violent inmates has gone up and our population of what should be convicted felony state inmates has gone up,” Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said during an interview this month.
Uses of force, in which a detention officer physically compels an unwilling inmate to comply with a command, averaged around 2.5 incidents per day in both 2019 and 2020, BCSO records show.
Salazar said better utilization of body-worn cameras and additional training have helped contribute to getting the number of use-of-force incidents down to pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s a very real, very important part of what we do,” said Salazar, who pointed out that use of force incidents are almost always in response to the actions of inmates.
BCSO has recently started utilizing the curriculum of Ethical Policing is Courageous, or EPIC.
Created by the New Orleans Police Department, it encourages members of law enforcement to intervene if they see an improper use of force by a colleague.
“You’re teaching your deputies to be active bystanders,” said Salazar, who added that the EPIC program is now taught to all incoming BCSO cadets and at in-service.
“He reached over and turned off my camera.”
Still, public records show that not all uses of force within the Bexar County Jail are justified.
In May 2019, Deputy Brandon Doege, at the time a member of the agency’s Special Emergency Response Team (SERT), was placed under investigation after a fellow deputy’s body-worn camera captured footage of Doege using a leg sweep, hip toss maneuver to take a handcuffed and leg-shackled inmate to the ground.
Doege then repeatedly punched the man in the back of the head, footage obtained by KSAT through a public records request shows.
Doege compounded the incident by reaching over and turning off the camera of another deputy at the scene.
In the weeks and months following the incident, BCSO investigators were able to gather enough evidence to terminate Doege, and eventually get him indicted the following summer on official oppression and tampering with records charges.
“Would I have punched him? Probably not. He reached over and turned off my camera,” said Deputy Noah Volpi, when questioned by an investigator during a taped interview.
Doege last December surrendered his peace officer’s license and was given two years probation in exchange for pleading no contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge of abuse of official capacity, court records show.
A motion this summer to terminate Doege’s probation early was denied.
Alleged assault at SeaWorld complicates Doege’s legal case
His legal situation became more complicated in early October when Doege was charged with felony assault of a child with the intent to cause bodily injury.
Doege, while dressed as a SeaWorld “scare character,” is accused of assaulting two people while working at the far West Side theme park. One of the alleged victims was a 14-year-old boy, San Antonio police records show.
Sources familiar with Doege’s arrest said the ex-deputy was dressed in a pig mask and costume when he broke character, grabbed the 14-year-old boy around the neck and tossed him over his body, slamming him into the ground.
The teen complained of pain in his left arm and back.
Doege, when questioned by officers, claimed the boy said disrespectful things to him, causing Doege to break character and ask him to move, according to sources.
The suspect then approached the teen and slammed him to the ground, police said.
Doege is also accused of punching a 53-year-old man in the face. The man, a relative of the teen, confronted Doege after witnessing him body slam the boy, preliminary information released by SAPD showed.
The second victim had noticeable swelling to his face, sources said.
Doege’s attorney told KSAT he could not discuss his client’s most recent arrest since information is still being compiled in the case.
The attorney told KSAT to re-watch the May 2019 footage and pointed out that the inmate appeared to turn on Doege shortly before the then-detention officer took him to the ground.
SERT deputy enters pretrial diversion program
A fellow SERT deputy, Jaime Soto, was arrested in August 2021 and charged with official oppression in connection to a December 2020 incident in which he was seen on camera assaulting an inmate and knocking the inmate to the ground without a reason, BCSO officials previously said.
Soto initiated and then engaged in the physical altercation with the inmate, a BCSO incident report states.
Soto agreed to enter a pretrial diversion program in June in exchange for dismissal of the case.
The requirements of Soto’s diversion program are not public, since the Bexar County District Clerk’s Office is not provided copies of these type of agreements.
Soto’s attorney did not respond to a phone call seeking comment for this story.